38 hours is the worst amount of time to be home. It’s just enough to feel relief in the uber home, when the evening air is still warm and the city still looks the same as you’re driving down lakeshore. It’s enough time to feel panicked about everything you have to do but not enough time to indulge this feeling.
It’s enough time to be happy when plans don’t pan out, to buy a day pass, to clean your bathroom, and to drink 5 coffees.
It is enough time to feel displaced from a city and an apartment that you’ve called home for the past 4 months; 22 months; the past 8 years. 38 hours is just long enough to feel wrong at “home” and realize it’s because you have changed, and never had enough thoughts about this to accommodate the strangeness of feeling like you have shrunk with all that you have let go of.
I’ve been travelling since July. Or June if you count my 11 days in the Yukon before officially leaving a month later. It was one of the most uniquely challenging living experiences I’ve had since I was a child – but then difficult living seemed normal, I didn’t question whether or not I could be happier because it wasn’t then in my power to change these things.
Moving into my own apartment almost 2 years ago was one of many turning points in the very rapid and detrimental succession of events that have significantly shaped who I am now. Or that’s what I like to think anyway. Regardless of the amount of truth in that statement, a lot of that growth was a connection to comfort and control over my own space.
I’ve gone through many waves of varying levels of control, as well as several over-turns and break downs of my psyche. Leaving for the Yukon was one of the most difficult decisions to make solely for the fact that I would be detaching myself from these two things that I believed I needed to be “okay”. I was moving to a place I didn’t know anyone, into a house that was more than far below my own livings standards at home, and letting someone else live and sleep in my room. I lent out a significant amount of my clothing to my friends because I wouldn’t be able to wear it. My roommate became in charge of keeping the plants alive.
I had never really focused on the comfort of my apartment. Gradually it had grown into a place of immense comfort, and the only time I really revelled in that is when I was cleaning or when there was a disruption in that comfort. When I came home from my first trip to the Yukon it – for the first time – felt suffocating. There were no longer mountains down the street, dirt roads, or fresh air. My partner was far away and the sameness of a Toronto summer (and probably also the birth control I went on for all of 2 months) had me in a frenzied depressive state for nearly the entire month until I left again.
Then I spent 3 months in the Yukon wishing I was at home.
Well, I wished I had my apartment with me. I wanted my clean clothes and house that didn’t smell like cigarettes; a kitchen where everyone cleaned up after themselves and a bathtub that I wasn’t afraid to soak in because of the grime that accumulated on it. I didn’t want to feel bad for not working as much as everyone else in the town and in my house even though I put in countless hours to a writing course, novel, blog, and my own personal collection on top of a job that I was actually getting paid for.
I had put myself in a place where I had to constantly fight with myself to know that the work I was doing meant something regardless of the immediacy of the payout. That my happiness wasn’t contingent on my physical space and only I had the power to make decisions to make me happy. I also had to own the fact that I had put myself here knowingly and willingly for a multitude of reasons, and it was my job to take responsibility for any of my decisions and inabilities to cope.
Long story short, after a month of being there I went off birth control and found it significantly easier to function. I spent a lot of time at the gym and exploring the trails and threw all my extra mental energy into developing a novel. Every day I felt a faraway excitement to return home.
At the end of September I flew to Nova Scotia for almost 3 weeks and fell in love with the place harder than I knew was possible. My last week in Halifax was bliss. I vowed to live there one day to get the full experience. I also realized that there was nothing I wanted more than to not go home, but also that I wasn’t entirely sure what home was to me anymore. I was excited to be with my partner, to visit my grandparents, to see my dog and bestfriend; everything surrounding those interactions seemed fuzzy and unimportant.
So, we’re back to my 38 hours in Toronto. The place where everything was the same, except for me. My apartment was still pretty well the same. I didn’t freak out about the way things had been moved or arranged; I cleaned the bathroom as a base layer for when I actually came home for good to do it; I went into my loft where all of my stuff was piled untidily with an accumulation of my roommates things and switched out some clothing; I realized that I was much smaller coming back than I was leaving, and that I hadn’t anticipated such a rattling of myself in the spaces I used to think I belonged to.
The amount of time I spent waiting to come back to this place, how brightly a beacon it was, was now blinding me. The city was too intense, my feelings about being home were far from what I imagined, and in these 38 hours I realized profoundly how much my travels had changed me. It felt foreign to me to not feel a deep, sticky panic about the changes in my apartment more than it felt foreign to be back at all. And it’s a strange thing to cope with the changes in yourself when you’ve been anticipating the changes in a place.
I wasn’t excited for the next leg of my journey. I was going to BC to see my grandparents (who are my favourite people in the world) but the time I was going to spend there seemed to be marked more by waiting than anything – waiting for things that were out of my control. But furthermore, I’d be returning to Toronto after all that and I don’t know how to prepare for that, or if I can at all. Preparation had proved to be something that didn’t amount to much emotionally in my travels, even though landing in Toronto was a distinct lack of them.
Now I’m on Vancouver Island. I’ve been in my PJ’s for 2 days, and I haven’t been this relaxed in a year (that’s what it feels like anyway). I wasn’t excited to come, I haven’t been excited to be here either. But I am content. I am relaxed, satisfied, at peace, and not waiting – these things are more lasting and true than excitement which has been a base of disappointment for me in the big picture.
By the time I arrive back in Toronto I will have been gone for 1/3 of a year. Like everywhere I’ve been, I’ll find the way that it is home. But the scariest, and most valuable lesson I’ve learned through all of this, is that people are home more than places.
Being with my partner in the Yukon; with some of my closest friends in Nova Scotia; my roommate and dog in Toronto; my grandparents in British Columbia. And me. I am learning how to be my own home, how to comfort myself, what I need to have and be to feel safe and like I can fit in. A huge part of who I was, was comfort and control. That was who I was when transitioning into being self-sufficient, and now it is a much smaller part of myself because while these are things I still desire they are no longer things that are detrimental to my wellbeing.
So while I navigate all this room I have to grow without these things controlling me, I’m going to try not to fill it with fear of unknown and instead let that space be for whatever else it needs to be, because I can plan change.
Written by Forest Greenwell